This day-trip to Mammoth Mountain was part of a longer roadtrip that included Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe area. We stayed in Bridgeport and ventured to Mammoth for a day of hiking and sightseeing. While Mammoth Mountain is known as a winter paradise for skiers, it’s also amazing in the summertime.
Day 3 | Mammoth
Total drive time: 4 hours and 30 minutes*
We spent a day at Mammoth Mountain. It’s a lava dome complex west of the town of Mammoth Lakes, in the Inyo National Forest. It was formed in a series of eruptions that ended 57,000 years ago. However, Mammoth still produces hazardous volcanic gases that kill trees and has an active geological site with volcanic hot springs. To get around Mammoth destinations, you have to take the bus from Mammoth Village. The area offers over 300 miles of trails. From granite rocks to basalt columns, pine forests to waterfalls and alpine meadows, Mammoth mountain offers something for all seasons.
Devil’s Postpile National Monument – molten lava and glacial ice shaped these unusual rock columns. Basaltic lava more than 400 feet deep filled this narrow valley nearly 100,000 years ago. As the lava cooled, cracks formed on the surface to release built-up tension. These cracks formed into hexagons, one of nature’s most efficient and stable shapes. We took a bus from Mammoth Village to Devil’s Postpile and then hiked .4 of a mile to the monument.
From Devil’s Postpile, we decided to hike to Rainbow Falls (3.8-mile hike altogether versus 2.8-miles if we took another bus). What we didn’t know… it’s mostly uphill in the sun and heat. In any other weather, this would have been a beautiful hike. A fire burned this area back in 1992. It began with a lightning strike three miles south and burned through 8,000 acres of dense forest. The forest is slowly starting to grow back, but it’s still pretty sparse.
Rainbow Falls – after a 2.5-mile hike from Devil’s Postpile, the San Joaquin River tumbles over an abrupt 101-foot drop, sending rainbows into the mist. The roar of the falls and the refreshing mists make it a great place for picnic or just relaxation after the hike. Once you get to Rainbow Falls, you can also continue down along the river to the Lower Falls or go back up half a mile to the bus stop.
Convict Lake hike – this is an easy 2-mile hike along the shoreline around Convict Lake. We ended up not doing this hike, but it looked really interesting. Convict Lake’s rugged alpine backdrop and bright-blue water with skies to match is what made us add this to our itinerary initially, but it was a really hot day and we were not looking forward to more hiking.
Hot Creek Geological Site – located in the bottom of a large volcanic basin, this 10 by 18 mile depression in the earth’s crust was created about 700,000 years ago when eruptions threw nearly 50 cubic miles of molten rock from beneath. The ground then sunk creating this depression referred to as a caldera. Water from the Sierra Nevada filters down through cracks in the crust and becomes heated by the magma. There steam vents, springs of boiling water and geysers that provide evidence of the area’s volcanic past. This was my favorite spot in Mammoth area, but getting there was tricky. Google Maps will take you straight to the parking lot, but be ready to drive on a gravel road for a few miles. You used to be able to swim in the creek as well, but today the area is fenced off due to unstable water temperatures.
Driving times are based on routes from our hotels, which were usually close to the attractions.
If you’d like to pin this story about visiting Mammoth Mountain, here is a good image: